Artist Allyson Mitchell’s lesbian feminist haunted house shows the horrors that lurk in the dark corners of women’s studies classrooms.
Nestled deep in the heart of Lansdowne and College, under a giant fanged rainbow, lies the campiest hellmouth entrance this side of Sunnydale. Those brave enough to enter the orifice will find themselves in “Kill Joy’s Kastle,” an unconventional haunted house conceived by Toronto artist Allyson Mitchell (in partnership with the Art Gallery of York University)*
, where a host of terrifying lesbian stereotypes lurk just inside its gaping maw. The project is an inversion of the moralizing “Hell Houses” created by evangelical Christian groups, in which visitors are scared by the horrors of homosexuality, abortion, suicide, satanic rituals, and alcoholic beverages. Of course, in a lesbian feminist haunted house, it’s a bit more complicated. Mitchell took us on a tour of what she proudly describes as a “gyno-explosion.” One thing’s for sure—Screemers this ain’t.
The playlist: According to Mitchell, sound is one of the most important elements of any haunted house. Thus, the Kastle’s soundtrack is a cacophony of Riot Grrrl anthems, funeral marches, feminist folk songs, Halloween sound effects, and, of course, the “Monster Mash,” all compiled by former Shadowy Man on a Shadowy Planet Don Pyle.
Earth Mother: Looming over the Kastle’s largest room is a 15-foot stuffed goddess, whose dripping “menstrual blood” provides the liquid for a particularly memorable game of apple-bobbing. “People have asked what the difference is between a regular haunted house and a lesbian feminist one, and I think it’s partly the lack of blood and gore. A lot of haunted houses are filled with chopped-up women’s bodies, and [the goddess’s] menstrual blood is the only blood in here.”
1. Graveyard of dead activists: Watch your step, or you may trip over the tombstones of feminist organizations past—some of whom deserve to be six feet under. “Some lesbian feminists are monsters who are really strident in their politics around gender binaries,” says Mitchell, “Hopefully, this can be a funeral to put to rest some of that kind of feminism.”
2. Faux feminists: In the “Straw Feminist Hall of Fame,” Mitchell offers up portraits of “the fake, pop-cultural feminists who are meant to scare you away from feminism.” Carrie Bradshaw, Sarah Palin, Liz Lemon, the Spice Girls, and Margaret Thatcher all make appearances. “I put some in that would be controversial, like Lena Dunham, so that people can ask, ‘Why Lena Dunham? I love her.’”
3. “Ball Bustaz”: In what’s easily become the Kastle’s most controversial performance, two so-called butch dykes use hammers to smash dozens of plaster-cast Truck Nutz (those ubiquitous balls that truckers hang from their rigs). “Someone asked me, ‘As a man, am I going to feel threatened that you’re smashing balls?’ It’s like, ‘Do you feel threatened when you see those Truck Nutz on the back of a truck? I mean, they’re going 120 km/hr.’”
4. Talking points: On the penultimate stop of their odyssey, visitors enter an ice-themed room to talk about their experiences with real-life feminist activists and academics. “This is the closest space to the Christian haunted houses, where at the end you sit down and pray with someone that Jesus Christ will save your soul,” explains Mitchell. “I didn’t want to indoctrinate people, but I did want them to have an opinion and be invited into the discourse. So people can discuss what they saw, what they liked, what they expected, and what the implications are.“
5. Exit through the gift shop: Mitchell sold most of the wares from Ye Olde Lesbian Feminist Gift Shoppe on opening night, but visitors can still take home souvenirs like the “I’m with Problematic” t-shirt, or a pair of beautiful nutsack earrings. Mitchell’s favourite is the “Rug Muncher Cookie Game,” which she suggests would be perfect for your next dinner party. “There’s an authentic lesbian pubic hair [inside one of the cookies]…. The person who gets that is the lucky one!”
“Kill Joy’s Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House” runs to Oct. 30 from 4–8 p.m. (or by appointment) at 303 Lansdowne Avenue. 416-736-5169. Contact the Art Gallery of York University at 416-736-5169.
CORRECTION, OCT. 24, 2013: The original version of this article—as it appeared online and in the Oct. 24, 2013 print edition of The Grid, neglected to mention the participation of the Art Gallery of York University in this project. Their involvement is now acknowledged here.